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This week has the potential for snow in the forecast, and it reminded me that it is time to talk about feeding birds during the cold winter months. A backyard bird feeder can help supplement natural seed sources and make finding seed easier when snow and ice conditions exist.

A backyard bird feeder can also help you, because natural resource sociologists have found that people benefit from wildlife in their lives. Wildlife help people feel connected to nature. This connection to nature can also have a calming effect on some people.

Let’s begin by assuming that you don’t already have a bird feeder, a little planning and consideration of bird feeding habits can make your backyard habitat more successful. First, since watching wildlife helps us relax and feel connected to nature, you obviously should place the bird feeder in your yard where it can be viewed from a convenient location indoors.

Next, let’s consider the birds’ needs. If possible, put the feeder in a location that is protected from winter winds. Secondly, if you are placing your feeder on a pole it should be 5 to 6 feet from the ground. However, there are some bird species, such as doves, which feed on the ground, so you might want to include a ground platform feeder to meet their needs.

Predators, such as hawks and cats, will also be attracted to your bird feeders, but for a different menu item. Therefore, locate your feeder within 5 feet of some type of escape cover such as trees or shrubs.

Now let’s consider the type of seed for your feeder. There are many premixed bird seed sources for you to buy, but what is in the mix will have an affect on how much is actually consumed. Some birdseed mixes contain seeds, such as milo, wheat, oats and rice, which are unattractive to most birds, and most of these seeds will end up on the ground. Doves will consume some of these types of seed, but some you can consider waste.

A way to avoid waste seed is to make your own mixture. Two seed types that are preferred by many bird species are millet and black oil-type sunflower seed. While the cost of this “create your own” mix may be a little more expensive, you won’t be paying for waste seed.

Remember that a feeding station in an urban area may use 50 pounds of seed or more during the winter months. A feeding station in a rural setting will likely use even more seed, possibly as much as 300 - 500 pounds. Like most commodities, you can save money by buying bird seed in bulk.

Finally, you should keep your bird feeder clean. Once a week remove moldy seed and fecal matter and if you continue to feed birds in the warmer months of the year, disinfect your feeder at cleaning time with a weak bleach solution.

Bird feeding can be an enjoyable recreation experience for the whole family, and perhaps help create a connection to nature. If you have questions about bird feeding or need additional information, contact the University of Illinois Extension Unit office in Charleston at 217-345-7034.

For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at or call us at 217-345-7034.

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